Madison Square Garden might not be the epicenter of boxing as it once was, but this Saturday, on St. Patrick's Day, one of the top boxers in the world will be on display at the famed New York City arena. (Yes, it's at the Theater, but hey, it still kind of counts).
Sergio Martinez, the undisputed middleweight champion, is widely ranked either as the third or fourth best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. The names ahead of him, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and perhaps Andre Ward in the eyes of some, are the sport's elite, and Martinez's recent rise rightly puts him in that conversation. Martinez (42-2-2, 27 KO), who has won his last four fights in impressive fashion, defends his crown against the scrappy Irishman Matthew Macklin, who will no doubt have the support of the raucous pro-Ireland, St. Patty's Day crowd. To kick off our coverage of the brawl, let's take a look back at Sergio Martinez's last three fights.
Wait...before we get to that, we should set the stage that led up to Martinez's second bout with Paul Williams, since its just as important in Martinez's rise. Then, we'll get to his last three fights.
Back in the summer 2009, Paul Williams was scheduled to fight Kelly Pavlik in a highly-anticipated, long-desired matchup of two of the world's top middleweights. They agreed to fight, then it got delayed, then delayed again, perhaps delayed once more before Pavlik finally pulled out of the fight with a staph infection. The bout had been scheduled for December in Atlantic City, and with Pavlik out, Martinez was named the late replacement. An accomplished veteran fighter, Martinez was supposed to put on a decent match. Instead came perhaps the best fight of 2009, a 12-round war where both men tasted the canvas in the first round. Williams was given the fight of his life but came out with the narrow decision victory. It wasn't a robbery by any stretch; it was one of those fights that legitimately could have gone either way. At the very least, Martinez earned another elite-level fight.
Quick aside: I attended Martinez-Williams I (and Martinez-Pavlik and Martinez-Williams II...it's nice to have a girlfriend whose grandmother is a degenerate gambler who gets comped tickets to any and every event in Atlantic City.) After the fight, I ran into Martinez at a roulette table in Bally's. I shook his hand and told him I thought he won the fight. He didn't really say anything back, but smiled and nodded. He knew he had won.
Martinez parlayed that into a fight for the legitimate middleweight world title vs. Pavlik in April 17. Martinez used his speed and athleticism to pick Pavlik apart, and by the late rounds Pavlik's face was a disgusting bloody mess. It wasn't a Martinez whitewash per say, but he did dominate the later rounds and won a unanimous decision. Now, seemingly out of nowhere he was the legitimate middleweight champion of the world.
That finally brings us to Martinez's last three fights:
Sergio Martinez vs. Paul Williams II - Nov. 20, 2010
Martinez knew he had won the first fight between these two. But if there was any doubt whatsoever, he quelled it with one picture-perfect overhand right in the second round. It was the best big-time punch in boxing in 2010, as Martinez knocked Williams cold to retain his title. You don't often see one punch send one fighter in one direction and another in the polar opposite one. Martinez was now the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, while Williams went from perhaps the sport's most avoided fighter to nearly ruined.
Sergio Martinez vs. Sergiy Dzinziruk - March 12, 2011
Martinez all of a sudden found himself in Williams' old position as one of the most avoided fighters in the world. Enter Dzinzinruk, at the time the undefeated holder of a junior middleweight belt. Dzinziruk had fought only once in the states prior to facing Martinez, but moved up in weight and came for the opportunity and big pay day. Dzinziruk had never been dropped before in 37 fights, but Martinez changed that. He knocked the Ukrainian down five, yes, five times, and eventually the bout was called to a halt in the eighth round. This one was a Martinez whitewash.
Sergio Martinez vs. Darren Barker - Oct. 1, 2011
The search for opponents continued for Martinez. He lobbied for fights with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to no avail. You can't exactly call it a stay-busy fight, but England's Darren Barker seemed a bit of an underwhelming choice. It was Barker's first in the States, and despite being undefeated didn't have name on his resume that was recognizable to most American boxing fans. Regardless, Martinez did not exactly look his dominant self. Barker proved tough to find, even for the slick Argentine. In the 11th, Martinez caught Barker with a shot that hit him on the side of the head, near the ear. It wasn't quite a highlight-reel punch, but Barker was exhausted and couldn't get up. Barker never really posed a threat and likely would have lost a decision had it gone the distance. But Martinez wasn't nearly as dominant as some may have predicted.
Now enters Macklin (28-3, 19 KO), who is expected to try and rough things up. He was the victim of a bad hometown decision in his last fight, this past July when he lost a split decision to Felix Sturm in Germany. Most observers thought Macklin won the fight, as he and Sturm fought in a phone booth and traded blows. Macklin would love to force Martinez to do the same, but it's unlikely given the athleticism and slick style of Martinez.
We'll have a full fight preview and a recap of Saturday's action, so stay tuned.